No innovation without talent
The reasons to aspire to a leading position in Life Sciences & Health are as powerful as they are simple: we happen to be good at it and it matters. In the coming decades, life sciences will be one of the most important economic, social and scientific fields. Innovations will sell all over the world. As a society, we stand to gain first if we can create a healthcare environment where innovations can be developed and introduced quickly. And by excelling in some topics we bring our entire knowledge economy to a higher level – just as an Olympic gold medallist inspires more young people to apply themselves with more dedication to a sport.
In science, as in sports, excellence depends on the presence of people with talent. Without such people, our strong position today will be lost tomorrow. Many countries recognize this. Competition for talent will only become fiercer. Remember 1995? It was the last year a Dutch team won the Champions League. Since then we have lost our ability to retain and attract the best football talent, and have been duly relegated to second tier status. For life sciences talent, we compete with the best in the world. Rivals like MassBio combine science, education, business, start-ups and venture capital on a level and scale not easily matched.
It should be our highest priority to remain and become even more attractive to talent, both foreign and domestic. To do that we need, first, a research environment that is exciting and dynamic: top quality, inspiring programs, with fresh ideas and new combinations. Second, the volumes and growth to provide ambitious talent with ample opportunity in both science and business. The best talent increasingly wants to work at the intersections between the two and have the option to pursue either career. Third, we need that dynamism and opportunity to be highly visible. Create a ‘buzz’ that this is the place to be. Thankfully, the topsector plan stresses both human capital and international positioning as key conditions for economic, social and scientific success.
Fortunately, we have a lot going for us. Our university medical centers are European leaders in clinical research (with EMC Rotterdam at #1 and four others in the top-20), our public-private partnerships are frequently cited as best-in-class examples, our science base is world-class, living conditions are excellent. True, we have few large corporations (Philips, DSM, none in pharma) and the social and business climate is declining. So: room for improvement, but a good place to start. Let us not waste the opportunity.
Buzzing with talent
- Create an exciting, dynamic research environment
- Provide career opportunities in science and business
- Position the Netherlands as the place to be for life sciences
Sijbolt Noorda is president of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) and chairs the Dutch Foundation for Education. He is a board member of the European University Association and serves on various boards of healthcare institutions.